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Monday, January 10, 2005


I'm fascinated by languages, and by linguistics. It's something I wish I'd had the time/opportunity to study in school...maybe I will later on. Here are two very interesting articles, on very different aspects of linguistics, both from Spanish researchers.

If the first, researchers found that rats have the ability, similar to humans and (some) other primates, to distinguish between two languages. One group of rats learned to press a lever when they heard a sentence in Japanese, another to do so when they heard a sentence in Dutch. In trials, both groups successfully discriminated between the two and, to a lesser degree, between other sentences in the languages. Interesting support for the preadaptation camp in linguistics. Press release. Full-text.

Secondly, researchers performed fMRI on Spanish speakers, Slibodores, and people who use both. Silbo is a whistling language used in the Canary Islands. Now, it comes as no real surprise to me that the brain processes Silbo in the same way that it does other languages in speakers (or, actually, whistlers), since that's been seen in sign languages and in other sonic systems like !Kung (a percussive language of clicks and clucks). What is interesting to me is that the brains of the Spanish-only subjects didn't seem to recognize Silbo as a language...I wonder if the same thing would show up if you played them Japanese or Oulof?

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